Oct 7, 2012 9:09am
Love for Levon (Non-Dead)
Anyone make it to this one? I would have loved to have been there, but I'd settle for another review. And I'll wait for the dvd.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It takes an arena concert to save a barn.
Collaborators and admirers of Levon Helm, who was the drummer for the Band, gathered on Wednesday at the Izod Center for a benefit concert, “Love for Levon.” It was a night of gritty voices, twangy guitars and songs steeped in American traditions and tall tales: a kind of powwow for the rootsy, handmade styles now categorized together as Americana.
The concert, which will eventually be shown on AXS TV and released as a DVD, raised money to keep music going at Mr. Helm’s barn in Woodstock, N.Y.; he died in April. The barn is a recording studio and, since 2005, the home of the Midnight Ramble, a concert series where the Levon Helm Band had been joined, through the years, by most of the musicians at the concert.
Even in an arena it was a cozy event. Dozens of luminaries from rock, soul and country — among them Gregg Allman, Jakob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, Mavis Staples, John Prine, Joan Osborne, John Hiatt, Jorma Kaukonen and Ray La Montagne — were backed by the Levon Helm Band. It’s now led by the guitarist and fiddler Larry Campbell and, Mr. Campbell announced, renamed the Midnight Ramble Band. Fondly, fervently and with few displays of vanity, they sang Band songs and songs from Mr. Helm’s 2007 solo album, “Dirt Farmer” (including the Appalachian-style “Little Birds,” sung by Amy Helm, Mr. Helm’s daughter).
Most of the performers echoed the inflections of Mr. Helm’s singing, with its deep Southern memories in every unvarnished phrase. And at their foundation were the beats Mr. Helm had played: his amalgam of bedrock economy, R&B backbeat, military tattoo and jazzy variation. Sometimes it took two drummers to play them.
Garth Hudson, the Band’s keyboardist, sat in vigorously on a few songs, including a rendition of “Chest Fever” (sung by the country star Dierks Bentley) that he opened with a sly, darting Bach pastiche as an organ solo. Robbie Robertson, the Band’s primary songwriter and other surviving member, did not appear. But his songs did, with their conundrums, gravity and humor.
Joe Walsh, though hardly the night’s most gifted singer, cackled through “Up on Cripple Creek” with lascivious glee, then ramped up a racing, swooping guitar duel with the steel guitarist Robert Randolph. Lucinda Williams captured the solitary anguish of “Whispering Pines.” The New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint sang “Life Is a Carnival” (written by Mr. Helm, Mr. Robertson and Rick Danko), riding the horn-section arrangement the Band had commissioned from Mr. Toussaint in the 1970s. Warren Haynes, from the Allman Brothers Band, pushed “The Shape I’m In” further south with a stubbornly leisurely slide guitar solo.
But some of the concert’s best moments moved beyond homage. Grace Potter, accompanying herself on organ in a beautifully sparse arrangement, made Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” a pure, lonely hymn. The Kentucky band My Morning Jacket took the stage on its own, keeping the horn section, to kick and stomp its way through “Ophelia.” Mr. Campbell sang the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” with John Mayer’s lead guitar teasing all around him.
The country singer Eric Church seized “A Train Robbery,” a Paul Kennerley song from “Dirt Farmer,” and snarled through its depiction of Jesse James warning, “We will burn your train to cinders.” And Roger Waters — the non-American on the bill — gave another “Dirt Farmer” song, “Wide River to Cross,” the kind of stately, overwhelming crescendos he used in Pink Floyd. Mr. Waters had brought a red baseball cap that Mr. Helm impulsively gave him in 1990, and it hung on a microphone stand — a relic and down-home talisman — as the entire lineup gathered to sing “The Weight,” belting its tales of comic woe like a family anthem.